Visit Herculaneum by Mouse
The Roman resort town of Herculaneum (Web site), in the modern town of Ercolano, was covered by over 60 feet of ash, and mud during the 79 AD eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. It remained unknown until it was discovered in 1709. Excavation began soon after but it was halted when Pompeii was found in 1748. Excavation shifted to Pompeii which was easier to uncover because there was only about 12 feet of debris over it. Work continued over the years at both sites, but parts of both are as yet unexcavated. Herculaneum suffered less damage from the eruption than Pompeii did, and therefore provides a better picture of what Roman life was like. The fallout from the eruption was more gradual than in Pompeii, filling up the houses before the town was so massively inundated. As a result, roofs did not collapse as they did in Pompeii, leaving upper floors intact. In addition, the Herculaneum excavation uncovered many skeletons of people who tried, unsuccessfully, to survive the eruption by hiding in boat houses at the shoreline. Analyses of these skeletons has shed additional light on the health of Romans who lived here. Many showed signs of lead poisoning. Roman water pipes and wine containers were often made of lead.
Herculaneum got its name from the Greek god Hercules, whom the inhabitants worshipped above other gods, indicating that it was once a Greek settlement. That was well before it became a resort for wealthy Romans. One of the artifacts you see in the excavation is a small statue of a drunken Hercules, relieving himself. There is a photo on our photo page.
The entrance to the ruins is at the end of Erculano's main street.  As you enter you see the ancient town spread out below and to the right of a long ramp that you walk down to the town's street level. This level is considerably lower than today's Erculano.  So right away you see how much debris covered the town before the excavation.  Almost the first thing you see are the boat houses in which the skeletons were found.  In 79 AD these were at the water's edge.  Today there is, of course, no sign of water anywhere near.
Among the sights in the town is a Roman bath house, a locker room in that bath house, as well as a very fine bas-relief of a chariot horse team, a coil of rope more than 2000 years old, a set of sliding doors in place, the bronze leg of a Roman bed on a second story, a Roman bed on a first floor, a linen press, and a storage room in which grain was stored in large earthen jars. In some structures you can see the beams holding up the second story. And, of course, there also are the rutted streets, mosaics and wall paintings you also see in Pompeii. You can see photos of these on the photos pages. Our impression was that much of what you see in Herculaneum is original. However, many things have been taken to the National Archeology Museum in Naples and are displayed there. You can see photos of some of these where that museum is discussed on this web site.
One of the largest and most luxurious palaces in Herculaneum, located part way up the Vesuvius slope with terraces descending toward the Bay of Naples, has not yet been fully excavated. This palace, called the Villa of the Papyri because it contained a library full of the scrolls, some of which have not yet been uncovered. The Villa once belonged to Julius Caesar's father-in-law.
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Photos: Page 1   Page 2   Page3    Naples National Archeology Museum
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